The challenge came by mail, from a valued friend who over the years had favored me with a sporadic correspondence, mainly in the form of gentle but well-aimed critiques of things I'd written. This time, apparently, I'd gone too far. He said he had read the things I had done on the recurring failures of intercollegiate sport. Failures to curb the big-money madness. Failures to relieve the pressure on coaches to win, pressure that has led to desperate conduct on and off the playing field and court—the cheating and the gratuitous violence. Worst of all, that pressure had led to the academic derelictions that have scandalized America in recent years.
Although granting that my stories—notably The Writing Is on the Wall (SI, May 19, 1980)—called attention to "inexcusable acts," my correspondent thought them on the whole too negative, too likely to rally only the cynics. There is indeed another side, he said, and he was living it every day. He wrote, "As I read [your words] I say to myself, 'Not the slightest tinge of this scenario is applicable to Notre Dame. It simply doesn't describe the athletic picture as I know it.' "
Then, taking both sides of a lively little morality skit, he asked rhetorically if Notre Dame might be unique in the high values and integrity it demanded of its athletic program. "I trust not," he answered. He encouraged me to make an appraisal, promising "full access" to records and personnel, and reminded me (unnecessarily) that this wasn't a self-serving suggestion, that, after all, Notre Dame really didn't need any more publicity. But he thought some good could come from it because college administrators were more troubled than ever that the system might be fundamentally flawed.
He polished off the challenge with best wishes and signed it with a flourish, right above the typed signature and title, "Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., Executive Vice-President."
The letter sat around for some time, but not passively. Like dough rising under a baker's towel, it expanded in my consciousness even as the system's breakdowns made their ugly marks in increasing number on the nation's sports pages and TV screens. I'm neither Irish nor Catholic, not a Notre Dame fan, not an alumnus, not even especially fond of the place or its famous victory march (On Brave Old Army Team has always struck me as a more inspiring number), but I had nonetheless come to include myself in that legion of admirers who harbor a vague conviction that Notre Dame is doing something right, that it possesses something that, if transmittable, might very well deserve parceling around.
Shortly after that, I was in the company of a coaching friend who I happened to know once lusted for a football job at Notre Dame. A tyrannical pragmatism cured him of that itch—needing to eat, he took a job elsewhere. I asked him if he thought there were things to learn from Notre Dame, if in its success in football and other sports and its upgraded academic status in recent years, there were patterns to be found and followed.
The coach is a combustible conversationalist. When he gets on a subject he stomps around and waves his arms. Immediately he was into the verbal equivalent of top gear. "Learn? What's to learn?" he shouted. "That's Utopia! You can't even compare Notre Dame with us. Some of us try to run first-class programs within the rules. Some of us succeed, some don't. Notre Dame doesn't worry about it because it doesn't have to cheat. Father Joyce brags about not allowing transfer students or junior college graduates into Notre Dame and not redshirting players. Notre Dame doesn't need to do those things, you get the picture?" He paused to allow the picture to be gotten.
"Notre Dame doesn't recruit, Notre Dame gathers," he said. "You say 'Notre Dame' to a high school football player, and it's like saying 'free lunch' to a starving man. Half the top players in the country tell you they've been dreaming about going there since they were little kids. Nobody tells you they've been dreaming about going to Louisville or Memphis State.
"What do you learn from a place where a coach loses 12 games in 13 years? You want to know? O.K. One, tradition. Notre Dame has fantastic tradition. Two, it has Rockne. He's dead, but he'll live forever. Twelve losses in 13 years! Three, it has a great common denominator, Catholicism. Four, it has a great fight song. Five, it has a golden dome that blinds you to the fact that in the winter the campus looks like a penitentiary. But Number One it has great tradition, and you can't get that anymore because college presidents fire you if you don't win, and the program has to start all over again every time that happens.
"Educationally, I think Notre Dame is overrated, but for overall prestige in academics and athletics, it's in a class by itself. I think it's great that intercollegiate sport has an example like Notre Dame. But it's not the real world. It's Utopia."
Prejudices aside, Notre Dame undoubtedly is neither the dream world my coaching friend thinks it to be nor the model for every school that other administrators should rush to imitate, as Joyce appeared to suggest. But, upon evaluation, Joyce would seem closer to the mark. Certainly, Notre Dame has great football tradition, but so do other schools. There's no doubt, for example, that emerging O.J.'s all over Southern California dream of playing for USC. Like Notre Dame (and a goodly number of other schools), Southern Cal doesn't "have to cheat," but evidentally it does—since 1956 the school has been on NCAA probation three times.
Notre Dame had Knute Rockne, but Alabama had the Bear, and Penn State has Joe. Notre Dame has Catholicism going for it, but Nebraska and Oklahoma and a lot of other schools have the religion of statewide football obsessions going for them. In short, Notre Dame may have more tradition and mystique and social forces working for it than any other football school, but its lead over its rivals in such things is nowhere near what a lot of them would have you believe.
Rather, the Irish's success in blending big-time football—and basketball—with integrity may be just as easily rooted in more mundane factors that other universities can copy to one degree or another. Joyce himself is the embodiment of perhaps the most significant of these factors: a consistent leadership.
Joyce has been one of Notre Dame's two major influences—the other, of course, having been the school's president, Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C.—for an incredibly long time. Every person hired for a key position at Notre Dame in the last 30 years has been hired by Joyce or Hesburgh; they have been in charge that long. In the harsh realm of higher education, where leaders burn out quickly or get routed, no other major institution has been granted such consistency at the top. None comes close: The national average for time in rank for college presidents is seven years.
The tall, graying, icy-eyed Joyce comes across as a solid and caring administrator, comfortable in his role as a highly visible second banana to Hesburgh. For three decades he has played archconservative to Hesburgh's flamboyant liberalism. "It's Father Joyce," says one officer in the Notre Dame administration, "who keeps Hesburgh from bankrupting the place." Working companions for 33 years, Hesburgh and Joyce have, among other accomplishments, performed a notable balancing act in keeping the monster of Notre Dame football both healthy and under control. Philosophically, they accept football's clout as a kind of astral benefit, like a prevailing wind, and refuse to be embarrassed or intimidated by it, although Hesburgh went through an early period of "putting it in its place."
At his first off-campus press conference as school president, in 1952, Hesburgh was asked to hike his cassock and crouch over a football for the photographers. "Would you ask the president of Yale to do that?" he replied testily and refused to pose. And he still revels in his in-house victories over Coach Frank Leahy on the issue of strict interpretation of eligibility standards for football players. Those triumphs helped Hesburgh establish his power base in the '50s.
"Intercollegiate athletics are important in the life of an institution, but not all-important," Hesburgh said at the 1981 Notre Dame football banquet, commemorating, ironically, the Irish's first losing season in 19 years. He once wrote in this magazine (Sept. 27, 1954) that those who "favor intercollegiate athletics praise them out of all proportion to their merits," but those who deny them "are quite blind to the values" they possess. He says he wouldn't want to be at a university that didn't participate in major competitive sports, as long as those sports were honest. He also says he has his statement of priorities whittled down to a two-minute speech he gives new coaches: "The one I gave Gerry Faust is the same one I gave Ara Parseghian and Digger Phelps and Dan Devine. I say, 'You've got five years. We won't say boo to you if you lose. I think you'll have the tools here to win more than you lose; it seems to work that way, but if you don't, you won't hear from me. You will hear from me if you cheat. If you cheat, you'll be out of here before midnight.' "
Joyce defends the same hallowed ground in his own speeches and writing, and both he and Hesburgh regularly reaffirm their view that Notre Dame exists not to provide the civilized world with first-rate football teams, but with a place to go for a first-rate Catholic education. The football teams just happen to make it a more attractive place to go. That's what they say. I don't doubt they believe it.
It's instructive to point out, however, if only to give schools that have run afoul of the rules proof that fanaticism can raise its ugly head in the best of circles, that in the '20s another Notre Dame president, the late John Francis O'Hara, proclaimed Notre Dame football to be "a new crusade" that "kills prejudice and stimulates faith," and blatantly promoted the school's identification with the sport on and off campus.
And the poor coaches who succeeded Rockne and Leahy—but without their predecessors' success—felt the wrath of the administration and wound up unemployed. Heartley (Hunk) Anderson (1931-33), who followed Rockne, and Terry Brennan (1954-58), who succeeded Leahy (1941-43, '46-'53), were sacrificed just as surely as they would have been at LSU or Texas A&M.
In the Brennan case, it was Hesburgh himself, with Joyce's backing as chairman of the athletic board, who yielded to the dark attraction college administrators seem always to have to firing football coaches. While bringing Notre Dame into the 20th century academically, an achievement for which he may well deserve sainthood, Hesburgh had taken on Leahy's victory machine—four national championships, in 1943, '46, '47 and '49—and some highly dubious coaching ethics, and by 1953 had cut that eccentric genius down to size with restrictions that, in Leahy's eyes, if not Hesburgh's, amounted to de-emphasis. The number of scholarships was cut from 40 to 20 for a year, and the football department was made to adhere to strict eligibility rules.
Then, in 1954, Hesburgh helped ease Leahy, only 45 but suffering from ileitis, into retirement. "We made no effort to keep him," Joyce admits now. Four years later, Hesburgh had to scuttle Brennan, his personal choice as Leahy's replacement, when it became obvious that Brennan wasn't going to win enough games under those same restrictions.
The experiment in de-emphasis was over. It had done precious little for Notre Dame's spiritual or financial needs. Recalls an alumnus who has remained close to his alma mater for 40 years, "Fundraisers were not mad, they were furious." It's not likely that Hesburgh will make such a mistake again. For one thing, he's too alert to fiscal needs. Notre Dame's endowment was $8.5 million in 1952; it's now over $200 million and in the Top 20 nationally.
In recent years, Hesburgh and Joyce have been outspoken critics of those abuses that have fouled college sport. Just last month, at the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame dinner, Hesburgh called for a stricter code of academic standards—and struck fear in several university comptrollers' hearts by saying that Notre Dame might refuse to schedule schools that don't abide by such a code. There is some risk in this crusading business, especially if your own laundry isn't clean. But Joyce and Hesburgh can speak with confidence that their school has been obeying the letter—and even the spirit—of the rules.
Evidence: A private survey of the National Football League two years ago showed that, of the 31 former Notre Darners then playing in the NFL, 30 had their degrees. When he passed on the survey to me, Joyce said that No. 31, New York Giant Offensive Tackle Jeff Weston, not wanting to be the lone ranger, was returning to school to get his diploma, which he has since done.
In the 18 years that Mike De Cicco, the Notre Dame athletic department's liaison with academe who doubles as the Irish fencing coach, has kept such records, only five Notre Dame football players have completed their eligibility without getting their degrees. Since 1971, all 41 basketball players who have completed their eligibility have earned degrees. Every single one.
Moreover, it must be noted that Notre Dame doesn't offer any of those "life science" majors or have any other apparent means of shielding an athlete from exposure to at least some of the rigors of scholarship. At all schools there are a few professors who grade athletes with affection—like the beloved "88" O'Grady, who taught philosophy at Notre Dame from 1926 to '56—but there's no such thing as a jock curriculum in South Bend.
There's no athletic dormitory at Notre Dame, either. Notre Dame doesn't believe in segregating athletes. Says Joyce, "We expect our athletes to be full-time members of the student body, no more, no less." In the dorms, the jocks get no perks, no favors, no fancy hideaways for watching color television. There is no special training table, except during the season of an athlete's sport when he has no choice but to dine late (after practice). Even then he eats the same food as everybody else, in one of the two campus dining halls. The athlete, in sum, benefits from having lived a "complete" college experience, rather than tunneling through a narrow corridor to the pros.
Seventy-five percent of the scholarship athletes in football and basketball are liberal arts or business majors; the other 25% divide into engineering, premed and prelaw. They, like other students involved in extracurricular activities, are granted one privilege in their academics: a priority in arranging their class schedules so that they can be free by 3 p.m. to practice. But even this isn't always possible, and when laboratories run to 4 or 5 p.m., as they often do, it's the coaches, not the athletes, who must make an accommodation.
Neither does Notre Dame believe in redshirting, and allows it only in cases of injury, never to "season" a player for later service. It pushes its athletes to graduate in four years. Most do. If one fails or drops a course, he must make it up in summer school. If his grade point average falls below the required 2.0 or he's lagging in the credits he needs (30 a year) for normal progress toward a degree, same thing—summer school. The salutary results can be charted: Of the 28 players who were given football scholarships in 1978, 25 graduated on time in 1982. Two are still in school and will get their degrees. Only one dropped out.
What good could possibly accrue to the athletic program, in terms of successful teams, under such academic orthodoxy? Economics Professor William Leahy says the Notre Dame faculty is "more appreciative" of its athletes—a subtle bonus. "They're not privileged characters, and we see it."
Equally illuminating is Notre Dame's police record with the NCAA. Great success attracts underminers who try to bring greatness down. Undermining is tacitly approved by the NCAA because its policing process calls for "cooperative enforcement," which means members are encouraged to snitch on each other when rules are believed to be broken. Currently 20 of the 788 member schools are on some kind of probation and 30 to 40 more are under investigation. Since 1952, 261 public penalties have been handed down. It would seem only natural that with its high profile Notre Dame would have gotten nabbed at one time or another, for one thing or another. And it has. Twice: in 1953, when it was "reprimanded" for illegal tryouts, and in 1971, when it was "reprimanded" for a minor technicality involving the grant-in-aid forms of several football players.
But that's it. Two misdemeanors—reprimands are the NCAA equivalent of parking tickets—in 62 years of big-time football and basketball. When I asked NCAA Director of Public Relations David E. Cawood, he said, "The astonishing thing our enforcement people find is that they get so few complaints [about Notre Dame]. For a school that attracts so much envy, and even hate, you would expect it would be defending itself all the time. But nobody points a finger."
Last winter the reverse occurred. Digger Phelps, Notre Dame's basketball coach for 11 years, pointed the finger at certain unnamed programs in his sport that he said were paying star players $10,000 a year under the table. The interesting thing about the charge wasn't that Phelps made it—he has been saying as much privately for years—but that he aroused no counter charges. Not one rival coach was heard to say that Phelps should clean up his own act before implicating others. To the contrary, the integrity of Notre Dame's program was never questioned.
The ability of Notre Dame's leadership to see the ways as well as the values of staying clean in an increasingly dirty world must be considered a reason that the school's reputation for rectitude goes unchallenged. Over the last couple of decades Hesburgh and Joyce have skillfully avoided the pitfalls that others so willingly leap into. There are, for example, no Notre Dame booster clubs, those rabid alumni-and-friends groups who at other schools create so many of the embarrassments (under-the-table payoffs, recruiting misdeeds, etc.) that result in penalties.
This isn't to say that Notre Dame discourages financial support. It generates millions through the 164 alumni clubs that Hesburgh shamelessly plies for funds. But not one penny of any contribution can be earmarked for athletes or athletics. All donations go into the university's general fund. Therefore, no direct influence can be exerted by old grads on the athletic program. Notre Dame alumni clubs are notorious for complaining about the Irish football coach's won-lost record—and consistent in getting nowhere with their complaints.
Two football seasons ago, Joyce hired Gerry Faust from a Catholic high school in Cincinnati to succeed Dan Devine as football coach, even though Faust had never coached a day at the college level or ever recruited a college player. An ominous murmur could be heard from the direction of the alumni clubs. This apparent lapse in good sense should be carefully examined because it will tell us more about Notre Dame than meets the eye.
Six months earlier, Joyce had announced that for the first time in Notre Dame history an athletic endowment fund was being established, with a goal of $10 million. In justifying this new endowment program, which would be administered by the office of development, not the athletic department, Joyce had cited soaring expenses, which had cut the "advantage" football and basketball revenues traditionally gained, as well as the need to expand the athletic program for women. Revenues in 1980 had reached an alltime high ($4.3 million), but expenditures were so large that the net had been only $29,000. By contrast, over a 50-year period—from back in Rockne's day to 1980—Notre Dame's athletic department showed an average annual profit of $250,000.
An essential ingredient in Notre Dame's rise to glory has been the keen eye its leadership has always had for the bottom line. The power of profits has never been lost on the school. It's a pragmatism that comes directly from Rockne, and is best illustrated by one example:
In Depression-wracked 1930, when the entire nation seemed on the verge of disintegrating, Notre Dame was building. It was building two dormitories, the law school, the engineering school, the commerce building and the new football stadium, mainly because Rockne's football teams had gained a national constituency through as slick a packaging job as spectator sport has ever seen. The Irish were a box-office smash year after year. And always the profits were pumped back into the general fund. After financing the rest of the athletic program, Rockne's undefeated 1930 team netted $689,000. In 1930, you could rebuild a small country with $689,000. Says Francis Jones, class of '29, a South Bend attorney and intimate of his alma mater's administrators and athletes, "Notre Dame has never had a depression."
That being the case, what did the hiring, at this critical fiscal juncture, of a high school coach represent? One editorialist suggested that it amounted to bringing in a local car dealer to run General Motors. But it strikes me that there are two ways to look at the chance taken in hiring Faust. One, it was a gamble not inconsistent with others taken during the Hesburgh-Joyce era. Parseghian, for example, turned out to be the beau ideal of all Notre Dame coaches, but his previous coaching success was limited to several above-average seasons at Northwestern. He was no sure thing. To this day, neither Joyce nor Hesburgh admits to understanding why Devine (1975-80) wasn't beloved by the Irish faithful. He arrived in South Bend with a distinguised record, and he gave the fans good teams and even a national championship. When he could no longer handle the alumni charges that he somehow "didn't fit," Devine quit. He wouldn't have been fired.
Any coaching job carries within itself the seeds of an abrupt termination, but last winter, after his 5-6 inaugural season, there wasn't—and there still isn't—any movement by the university toward ending Faust's employment at Notre Dame. The jury of public opinion may still be out, but Joyce and Hesburgh don't answer to juries. Or alumni clubs.
Which brings us to the second, or more idealistic, way of looking at the Faust hiring. It represented a kind of Dei gratia stand for righteousness at Notre Dame, and never mind the business risk. Faust was more than just a successful high school coach. He was a devout, stand-up Catholic who made a lasting positive impression on his players. "We have a short motto," says Joyce. " 'What's good for the boy is good for Notre Dame.' I think Gerry Faust will be good for the boys." In effect, the Faust hiring put Notre Dame's actions where its mouth has always been. But not always was. A South Bend man who was close to Leahy recalls his installation in 1941. "Leahy asked Father So-and-so, 'What do they want?' Father So-and-so said, 'They want to win, and they don't care how.' "
Certainly, the hiring of Faust was more in line with what Notre Dame now sees itself to be, and that's almost as important as what it is. To be good, you must aspire to goodness. It doesn't come naturally.
In answering Joyce's challenge, I've now heard many voices giving many impressions of Notre Dame. Not all the voices were admiring ones. One rival coach denounced the school's "bullying" ways, especially at Notre Dame Stadium, and the "smugness" of its leadership in not taking "certain types of athletes."
Even some of those who were intimately connected don't feel that the bricks of Notre Dame were laid by angels. Alan Page, an All-America on the 1966 team, says that the place "never had a mythical effect on me." He says it was different "only in that it was smaller, and you couldn't get lost in the classes the way you might at Minnesota." Page says he has "no nostalgia for Notre Dame."
Perceptions randomly given are, of course, imperfect barometers. It is, rather, the weight of evidence between the extremes that make the larger truth. In sorting out an accumulation of viewpoints, I found that the majority of those who have played at Notre Dame have an unusual affection for the place, even more deeply felt than I had imagined. Many of them talk in terms of the bond they forged, the kind you find among participants in a great mutual undertaking, like a war or a social crusade. They are not, however, of one mind.
The earlier ones speak almost exclusively of the football experience, how inspiring that was. Johnny Lujack quarter-backed the national championship teams of 1946 and '47. He remembers his first visit to the Notre Dame campus, as a high school senior. "I got to meet the coach [Leahy], to see the Notre Dame team, to be in the locker room after the game," he says. "Everything was the way I'd imagined it. Hell, if God had taken me then, I'd have thought I'd had a full life, and I was 17 years old."
Those whose experience is more recent seem to see Notre Dame in broader measure, as if in reflection of the greater breadth Hesburgh has brought to virtually all aspects of the university. In the pre-Hesburgh days, Notre Dame was considered academically a limited, sectarian institution and not necessarily even the best of the nation's Catholic schools. Today it's a well-regarded, "national" university that, while certainly no Harvard, ranks comfortably within the top 100 of the nation's 2,500 colleges.
Michael Oriard, a walk-on center who co-captained the 1969 team, recalls that of the 10 or 12 people "I really lived with" in the dorm at Notre Dame, only he played football. "Four of the others are now doctors, three are lawyers, two are engineers," he says. "They were guys who got good educations. But you know, they never missed a football game." Oriard is now an English professor at Oregon State.
And among the contemporary players, there is unmistakable pride in being honorable at a time when honor seems to be in short supply. Standout senior Defensive Back Dave Duerson was, of course, recruited by other schools. Duerson says one recruiter in the South told him, "When you take a test here, all you have to do is put your jersey number on top of the paper. That'll get you your grade." Duerson says the suggestion turned him off: "I had a 3.75 average in high school. I didn't need any free passes."
What these statements of devotion—especially the ones from more recent players—say is that the experience of being at Notre Dame is enhanced by the way football is integrated into the very marrow of university life. Football isn't a matter of survival at Notre Dame—it hasn't been that since the '20s when Rockne put the school on the map—it's a matter of enrichment. The game has greatly enhanced the school and continues to do so.
Why is it important to accept football's eminence in Notre Dame's life? Does doing so not admit that Notre Dame is, after all, a "football factory" just like a lot of other big-time schools? Of course it does; but the point is this: Notre Dame has a leadership that knows how to appreciate football as much as it knows how to control it. That's a combination that has led to an integrity of purpose that didn't spring from some bygone miracle but has been an evolutionary thing, brought about mainly by good people doing a good job. Notre Dame's special quality when it comes to athletics isn't a superior morality, but a superior and deeply involved leadership.
Says Hesburgh, "No coach can ever say he wasn't aware of our policies." Joyce, who with Hesburgh's blessing runs Notre Dame athletics as a sort of autonomous fiefdom, say he "constantly reminds people that integrity is our top priority here. I do that personally, not through an intermediary.... Many schools fail in athletics because of a lack of control at the top. We will never have that here."
Like all human institutions, Notre Dame isn't "pure" and never has been. It's not above reproach and never has been. But it strives mightily to attain purity and be above reproach. The heart of the matter is that Notre Dame is proud of being righteous. This creates a perpetuating kind of morality. In a way, this makes obeying the rules easier. When you build for yourself a glass house, you watch what you wear to the breakfast table.
All the testimony supports this trust. When Aubrey Lewis, one of the first blacks to play for Notre Dame and now a vice-president of FW. Woolworth Co. in New York, says, "The quality of the education, the quality of the people, the integrity, the honesty—they must never change," he means that Notre Dame is obligated to this. Parseghian says that he's proudest of the fact that he achieved what he did "without ever cheating." He says Notre Dame has an "obligation" to set this example. "People have a need to idolize, to look up to something. Notre Dame provides that."
It got to that only in time, however. Early on, Notre Dame was holier-than-thou, but not always so holy. Only in recent times has the reality come close to living up to the reputation. There's some irony in this, too. As its outside image became more liberal, Notre Dame's inner commitment to scrupulous behavior—at least in its athletics—became more conservative.
Notre Dame doesn't cheat in recruiting. At least there's no evidence that it does, and the prospect of having the man at the top intervene if it did is surely a reason for coaches not being tempted to cut corners. The leadership rides equally hard on academic matters. Joyce gets monthly progress reports from De Cicco, who gets them from deans and professors. Admissions are gone over with a fine-tooth comb. Notre Dame requires an incoming freshman athlete to have a combined score of at least 900 on his SATs, rate in the top third of his high school graduating class and be credited with 16 units of English, foreign language, social studies, science and math at a minimum 2.0 average. There are no special admissions.
Notre Dame doesn't take junior college or transfer athletes, ostensibly because it doesn't want to appear to be in the business of "prepping" players for big-time football or basketball, but also because it doesn't want to risk trusting the entrance criteria or normal progress rules of other institutions.
Those are guidelines; in point of fact, circumstances can warrant making exceptions—and two such cases were on the football team last fall. Fullback Larry Moriarity, whose grandfather and brother played at Notre Dame, came in from Santa Barbara City College. Tight End Ricky Gray transferred from Clemson to nearby Holy Cross Junior College, and then to Notre Dame. Both cases had to go to the athletic faculty board, whose chairman is Joyce. The rationales for their acceptances were that it had made sense for Moriarity to attend a college near his home while recovering from the trauma caused by a traffic accident and later a near fatal case of spinal meningitis, while Gray had been previously accepted by Notre Dame's admissions committee. Nevertheless, I have to think a considerable soul-searching was involved on Joyce's part.
It's simply not accurate to believe, moreover, that Notre Dame doesn't make academic allowances when competing for athletes. It suffers its share of coaches lobbying Director of Admissions John Goldrick for special consideration. Goldrick doesn't always turn a deaf ear. The difference is that his gray areas for admissions are just not as broad as those at numerous other schools, and the scrutiny—primarily Goldrick's, but Joyce's, too—is so keen that a coach would be ill-advised to try pulling a fast one with, say, a recruit's transcript. De Cicco says that only three of the 27 football players brought in on scholarship last year were under the standards, and "any more than that would have the admissions department screaming, not to mention Father Joyce."
The halfback who can run a 4.4 40 or the quarterback who can throw a 60-yard spiral into a water bucket might get in with 14 credits or a combined SAT score of 850 or a "predicted" GPA of 2.0 (the NCAA's minimum), "but never a combination of the three," De Cicco adds.
Willie Fry, a defensive end (class of '78), came in with only two years of math, but high grades in other subjects made him a worthwhile risk, and he graduated on schedule. Halfback Jerome Heavens (79) raised some eyebrows at Notre Dame when he was accepted there. His average, says De Cicco, was barely over 2.0, and he "generally didn't have the numbers in other areas." In such instances, Notre Dame tries hardest of all. "With Heavens we went on red alert," De Cicco says. "We had him tutored in English, math and science, and we kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. He majored in economics and graduated in 3½ years."
It would be naive to believe that this devotion to scholarship has always been so scrupulous at Notre Dame, or that it would be so if the leadership qualities weren't as strong in the coaches' offices as they are in the administrators'. Notre Dame has been blessed by many things, and more than anything, it has been blessed by the presence of three extraordinary football coaches: Rockne, Leahy and Parseghian. The fact is, however, that by Hesburgh-Joyce standards, only Parseghian would measure up as exemplary. Rockne was a football original—a brilliant coach, a spellbinding orator and an entrepreneurial genius. Notre Dame was lucky he came along. But he was also a shameless huckster who played loose with the truth, and there is more than casual evidence that his dedication to the academic side of his players' lives was not as rigorous as some have made it out to be. Leahy had the Irish good looks of a movie idol. He was capable of eloquent, impassioned speeches and was a tactical genius. But Leahy was also a practice-field martinet obsessed with winning, and he brought more than a casual shame on old Notre Dame by his devious on-field tactics—for example, the notorious sucker shifts and fake-injury plays.
As for Parseghian, there is no evidence that he recruited illegally, or that he pampered or paid his athletes, or that he played loose with the rules. He wasn't even paid like a big-time coach, at least at the start. He came to Notre Dame for $20,000 a year, a $2,000 raise from his salary at Northwestern. He didn't ask for or get a car or a house. In the end, of course, he became rich and famous. It could be argued that it was justified all around.
Along with Notre Dame's administration, Parseghian believed, as does Faust, that big-time athletics and meaningful education are compatible, that you can compete and still have your athletes graduate in four years, and not be segregated in jock dorms, and not be bribed as recruits or babied as undergraduates, and not be paid a penny beyond the costs of their education. But as long as Notre Dame's leadership clings to the fable that "football is only a game, no more, no less," a statement Hesburgh made at the 1981 football banquet, it will come up short of being an athletic paragon.
To show that that statement has the heavy odor of baloney, one need only compare the treatment afforded Notre Dame's football and basketball programs with that given its other varsity sports. Football and basketball get a ton of support and attention, not because they are better character builders or better examples of manliness or anything else. They get it because they represent money and interest. And the chance to make more money and get more interest. You don't concoct a $1.9 million budget for a sport that is "only" a sport. The practical consideration is as important as the idealistic one. As long as this isn't acknowledged, the inconsistencies will jump out every time the lid is off.
It is fiction that Notre Dame is successful in all 18 varsity sports. There are now only four full-time head coaches at Notre Dame—in football, basketball, hockey and women's basketball (as a concession to Title IX legislation). Other head coaches must perform other duties. Of the 160 athletes now on scholarship, 95 (the NCAA limit) are football players, 18 are hockey players, 13 are basketball players. The other sports divide and subdivide—by giving "partials"—the rest. Track gets 11, women's basketball eight, baseball four, tennis two, golf one, etc.
The results speak for themselves. The Notre Dame baseball team had eight losing seasons in the 10-year period from 1971 through 1980. Since 1958, swimming has been .538. The tennis team had six undefeated seasons and won two NCAA titles, but those came over a 60-year period and it doesn't do very well anymore. De Cicco's fencing team is a notable exception: With no scholarships and a tiny budget ($45,000), it has achieved a 369-36 record in 21 years.
The rationale is practical and understandable: Football and basketball make money, the others don't. Phelps's teams have sold out every home game for 10 years, and the basketball budget benefits accordingly. After expenses of $455,000 (including salaries of $107,000 and grants-in-aid of $90,000), the 1981-82 basketball team made $160,000. Football in 1981-82 had expenses of $1,900,000, including $339,000 in salaries, $651,000 in grants, $148,000 in travel and $101,000 in recruiting. It spent $36,000 on film, $19,000 on laundry and $18,000 on long-distance telephone calls. And it made a profit of $577,000.
Joyce says he's sympathetic to the idea that increased support could make other sports do better and perhaps make money, but he's not inclined to wait too long for it to happen. In 1980 hockey was promoted heavily for the first time and it drew nice crowds. But at the end of the year it had nevertheless lost $123,000, and in 1981 its wings were clipped. The Notre Dame hockey team now competes in a "bus league," in which it doesn't have to fly to away games. Joyce is hopeful that women's basketball "will prove revenue-producing," and in 1980 granted $220,000 a year to run that program. But he admits if it were field hockey "such an expense would be unconscionable."
Joyce is correct, of course, when he says a university can have a "satisfactory athletic program without being expensive." He's justifiably proud that Notre Dame supports 28 intramural sports and 11 club sports. These are never revenue-producing. The profits from varsity football cover the expense. Moreover, it wouldn't be very practical to throw fistfuls of money into sports that might color the bottom line red. You have to call a halt somewhere. Lavishly endowed Ivy League schools "can afford a million-dollar loss in athletics," says Joyce, "but Notre Dame can't."
Notre Dame doesn't have to. Its football team has been on network television 71 times. It has been the subject of more than 50 books. Its appeal has been instrumental in the formation of 164 Notre Dame Alumni Clubs. It continues to be the linchpin for the entire Notre Dame athletic program, and the promulgator of the Notre Dame image that makes the school's endowment drives so much easier.
Notre Dame? Father Joyce was right in issuing his challenge. It tells us something worth listening to. I remember a full-page ad from TIME magazine that ran midway through the second decade of the Hesburgh-Joyce administration. Taking up half the ad was a picture of a football. Under the football was a caption: "If that's all you know about Notre Dame, you have a lot to learn." That is clearly the truth.